Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Blowing Smoke

Calabasas, California has enacted a brave new ban on smoking. I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes, over the next couple of years. Not that I’m all that thrilled by either side of the debate -- I’m allergic to tobacco smoke, after all, but I also can’t seem to bring myself to like the sanctimony of the anti-tobacco crowds. Maybe if a few of these folks got down off their high horses and started listening and discussing in a polite manner, they’d have more allies for their cause, but, by and large, the anti-smoking lobby is run by people with no more information than the rest of us have, but they still are convinced they know better than we how to run our own lives.

Some of these well-intentioned people are also involved in the efforts to force us to stop eating affordable foods simply because, without exercise, these foods will rapidly make us fat. I’ve got news for them, though. If you don’t exercise, even lentil soup will eventually cause lipids to accumulate around one’s midsection. And, second-hand smoke isn’t the lone cause of lung disease. It isn’t even the primary cause. It takes a genetic predisposition to get you there, and exposure to a number of environmental and job-related irritants -- from city to country to desert -- can trigger cancer, emphysema, and asthma. In other words, life will cause illness. How do you suppose they plan to control that?

Some of them strongly object to the government interfering in a woman’s “right to choose” to kill her unborn child, but they use “for the good of the children” as their reason for pressing tobacco bans. Many of the very same people who pushed for this sort of law are strong supporters of the “right to use” marijuana, and to legalize other smokable drugs. But that hyopcrisy is not my main grievance with the measure and the people who have put it forth.

The bigger trouble with the ban in Calabasas is that it doesn’t actually do anything except insult smokers. It doesn’t force them to quit smoking -- in fact, I know a few contrarians who had quit years ago, but who are taking up the habit again simply to make their statement (not the smartest thing my friends have ever done, but I love ’em anyway).

This ban doesn’t even limit itself to smoke in public places. It says, “smoking is prohibited everywhere in the city, including but not limited to (1) Public Places; (2) Places of Employment; (3) Multi-Unit Residence Common Areas; (4) Enclosed and Unenclosed Places of Hotels, Businesses, Restaurants, and Bars, and other public accommodations.” If a man owns his business, and is the only employee, he can be fined if he lights up on the job. And, according to section 8.12.060, no person shall knowingly permit smoking in an area under his control, upon pain of criminal charges againt the owner.

But it gets worse: “No person shall Smoke in an area in which Smoking is otherwise permitted ... within a Reasonable Distance from any entrance, crack, or vent into an Enclosed Area in which Smoking is prohibited”*. So, if a person is standing in a designated smoking zone, and the wind shifts to blow his smoke in a neighboring window without his being aware of it, he can still be fined for creating a public nuisance. If a smoker is in his apartment, with the window open a crack, and the breeze wafts some of his smoke into his non-smoking neighbor’s apartment, he can be fined for violating the “Reasonable Distance” part of the law, while still in the privacy of his own home

My lungs scream as I type this, but I’m with the smokers on this one. No, I’m not going to take up a five-packs-a-day habit and move to California to puff in the faces of Calabasas’ city council. But I may very well accept the invitation of some of my southwestern friends to come visit, whereupon I aim to load up my body on beans and broccoli and beer and other such substances, and then I shall sit in the doorway of Calabasas City Hall every day producing highly toxic fumes until the city council cedes the point: this isn’t simply about public health, it’s about controlling the person whose habits they don’t approve. It’s only fascism when some other guy calls the shots.

*emphasis mine

Recommended Reading: The Smokers Club provides link to PDF of Calabasas Smoke Restrictions ordinance

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